Monthly Archives: April 2015

Hairy Pigs and Meerkats

SWMBO decided that a trip down memory lane and a visit to the Beale Park Wildlife establishment was called for, and in the absence of hundreds of peacocks, a pleasant time was had by all (Biggles remaining on guard, asleep, on the boat). While Fran was trying to work out which bird was the Norwegian Blue…

First Mate has the train to herselfWonder which one's the Norwegian  Blue...

… the local mallards had formed an escape committee, although the brightly coloured occupants of the prison  seemed unimpressed.

The escape committee. Where's Steve McQueen?Bright birds

The Egyptian Geese have decided to recruit one of their family as a Charity Mugger who demanded funds for the bird-food slot machine with extreme prejudice: could teach the Canal and River Trust chuggers a thing or two!

Walk this way, Madam, and open your purse...... or I'll peck your knee caps. 

Our many trips north of Hadrian’s Wall meant that Hairy Coos were hardly a novelty, but we’d never come across their porcine relatives before. They were really quite sweet, and are often kept as pets in New Zealand, apparently.

Hairy Pigs 1Hairy Pigs 2

And Meerkats really do stand upright, keeping guard.

 They really do stand upright!And Aleksander is on guard duty...

21 Swan Salute

Pottering around on the water, it’s easy to get blasé about all the wildlife, even in towns. But things still never fail to surprise. At Abingdon, on sliding back the roof hatch, within that small bit of visible sky, there were overflying – all at once, at different heights – a Red Kite, a Common Tern, a Heron, a Black-Headed Gull and a Wood Pigeon.

Moored at Wallingford, we had low passes by Kingfishers on several occasions, and at one point there were 7 Red Kites performing formation aerobatics as though practicing for the Farnborough Air Show. Didn’t have the heart to tell them that it’s Paris’ turn this year, and anyway the Red Arrows and the Patrouille de France have rather sown up that market.

When Greylag Geese pass closely on short finals with full flaps down, you can hear quite odd loud vibrations from the wing trailing edges – sounds like someone playing a kazoo or comb and paper. Quite different from the whooshing noises from swans in transition from ground to air or vice-versa.

On the subject of swans, they seem to have been taking lessons from London Transport: hadn’t seen one for days, then near in open country near Goring we came across 21 milling around quietly in the middle of the river: they politely saluted and moved apart to let us through. Later, a single swan – probably related to the nutter near Newbury – passed the boat on short finals to the river just ahead of the boat, with a maximum wing-tip clearance from Fran’s head of three inches. Any closer and he’d have had her sunglasses off her head. What is it with swans and her?

And foreigners abound. Apart from Canada Geese (way too many these days) we’ve seen Egyptian Geese (including one pair with five goslings), Mandarin Ducks, and this chap at Wallingford.

Muscovy Duck, it would seem.

He’s seemingly a Muscovy Duck from Central/South America, and was there last October, so he’s obviously made his peace with the locals.

Heading for Reading

With a promise of some engineering attention from Piper Boats at the end of the week, it was time to set sail for the delights of Reading. When we left Abingdon, we had spotted the steam barge Magic Dragon moored up at the chandlery, and it reminded us of some nice, cat-friendly moorings at Beale Park, where we spotted her last September, so headed off for there.

Stopping in Goring/Streatley for lunch, the size of the weir provides a salutary reminder that the river is getting bigger and bigger. And as per our last visit the Goring Art Gallery had some works with folkie connections, in this instance Caroline Ritson, better known to us as a member of the ceilidh band The Geckoes and (long long ago) the infamous Jumpleads.

Goring LockThe Swan, StreatleyStreatley Common

The Captain pronounced satisfaction on our arrival at the Beale Park moorings.

Sir surveying the mooring pinsAnyone home?

The photogenic cottage in the woods across the river had clearly decided on a variation of the three china ducks flying up the living room wall.

In a Cottage, In a Wood...Three ducks

And as well as being a nice place to moor up, the Inland Waterways Association Festival at Beale Park some years ago was the first time we came across Piper Boats and their Dutch Barges, while Fran has fond memories of childhood visits to the wildlife park with her grandparents. Mind you, back then they had hundreds of peacocks, which wouldn’t have exactly made for a quiet mooring spot.

Moo-ring Fees

On the canal system, you can moor for free on the towpath side for up to 14 days unless there are signs to the contrary (such as 48 hour limits near shops etc.). On the river, there’s no official towpath, and the ability to moor up – or not – is entirely down to the individual landowner, who may or may not charge. Having forgotten that, we moored up at Wallingford on the town side of the bridge, and were somewhat surprised to be rudely awakened at OMG o’clock by a cheery chappy banging on the boat and shouting “Gooood Morning, Mooring Fees please”. We’d moored on the other side of the river before without any such disturbance, but our cheery chappy said “This side’s Wallingford Town Council managed, the other side’s the District Council, and they only collect the fee in the summer when the swimming pool is open”. The Captain was severely dischuffed and set off determinedly to complain to someone.

Now where's that pesky parking attendant...... time to see him off.

We moved to the other side for our second night…

Even when the mooring is basically a cow-field like Lechlade Public Moorings you can get asked for a mooring fee. And even way out in the country, you can still get hassled…

Mooring fee please...

Idyllic Abingdon–(Tufted Ducks excepted)

An uneventful departure from Oxford, and a remarkably quiet  (traffic wise) cruise down towards Abingdon in rather dull weather. Song & Dance’s washing machine only works when plugged in to a shore line, and the dirty washing pile was showing signs of taking over the boat. We knew of electric services several days further down the river at Goring Lock, but really needed something before them, and launderettes never appeal. A chance conversation with an Abingdon based cruiser in Sandford Lock regarding the possibility of overnighting in Abingdon Marina elicited the reply “No chance, but there’s a hook-up at Abingdon Lock, even though it’s not listed: Richard (the lock keeper) will sort you out” and off they zoomed.

Having failed to contact the lock on the phone, when we arrived at Abingdon Lock, Frank the volunteer came straight over to us and said “Are you the boat wanting overnight mooring with a hook-up?”  before directing us to a spot on the weir island. Perfick. And it was just like a lovely private garden, the other side from all the hurley-burley of the lock traffic. (There was a small notice saying you could camp there, but there were no takers). As a bonus, a pleasant 15 minute walk through the woods and Abbey Gardens took you straight to a large Waitrose. What more could one ask for? Many thanks to Richard and Frank for the hospitality.

The weather was lovely and we sat in our “garden” in the warm sunshine while the washing machine worked overtime, watched the passing traffic – proper job gongoozlers – and ended up staying another day. Also said hello to a passing David Piper boat of some vintage heading for Liverpool, and still going strong.

Abingdon LockOne of David Piper's boatsMeet the family

Duckling and gosling production seems to be building up fast, although we haven’t spotted any cygnets yet. On the way to Waitrose a male and female mallard and a solitary tufted duck were quietly paddling and dabbling around together in one of the overgrown back-waters, when a  moorhen (usually a pretty low key bird) steamed out of the undergrowth at flank speed and, with extreme prejudice, saw the tufty off the premises. Never seen a moorhen behave like that before. Wonder he had against tufted ducks.

For Oxford and St. George

Although we’d spent the whole weekend in Oxford (on music and morris dancing matters) and parked by the station for a reshuffling run home, we hadn’t actually done anything touristy, and St. George’s day promised wall-to-wall warm sunshine, so a day’s gentle perambulation around some of the landmarks was called for.

Magdalen Tower from Magdalen BridgeRiver Cherwell from Magdalen BridgeTrainee CSIs? Bug counters?

Magdalen Tower, the River Cherwell and strange goings-on from Magdalen Bridge.

Punt ParkPunt jam

Punt park and punt jam. (Actually there were about six punts fully occupied by young people shouting in a non-English language of some kind, going all in different directions and causing complete chaos. The joys of youth…)

Maths post-grad working on PhD thesis?DSCF1722

A couple of dreaming spires (well, one spire and one tower).

Corpus Christi CollegeChristchurch Meadows

Corpus Christi College and Christchurch College Meadows.

Fran's new diet

Fran trying out her new diet: a latte and a caramel and chocolate oozing cookie.

Hungry? Us?

Quietly whiling away the morning while the ship’s quarter-master was out catching trains and moving things between Cropredy Marina, boat and home, there was a gentle but persistent tapping noise from somewhere. Opening the side hatch revealed Mr & Mrs Mallard, paddling gently in the river flow to stay stationary by the hatch. I’m still not sure if they were politely asking if the food bank was opening any time soon or trying to get Biggles to subscribe to The Watchtower.

We were moored on East Street just down stream from Osney Bridge, opposite a fairly run down Victorian brick-built factory, and things had been expectedly quiet from the wildlife point of view; apart from the two cold-callers, a grey wagtail, two feral pigeons and a dog being walked there was nothing anywhere in sight. So I broke out the dwindling supply of duck food to treat Mr and Mrs M, who dug in thankfully while making absolutely no noise or fuss whatsoever.

Within 45 seconds, ten more young male mallards, three large greylag geese and a black-headed gull had appeared from nowhere, and were swarming noisily around noisily demanding food with menaces.

Have they got over-the-horizon radar, or what?

Spring in England: The Sap is Up

Having overstayed somewhat in Jericho, but needing to be back in Oxford so someone could catch a train to rescue the car from Cropredy, then head for home to pick up post, parcels etc., a quick overnight trip up The Thames seemed in order. The journey up through Port Meadows to Eynsham in bright sunshine was quite delightful, with hundreds of Greylag Geese lining the banks, a cormorant perched precariously and ominously on a blasted oak, and a  bunch of (common?) terns whizzing past. The river itself was full of strange and vaguely unpleasant looking black and brown stuff floating past; sometimes huge floating islands of it. Given the number of geese around and the mess they make on the ground we had a horrible feeling it might be related to them, but a lock-keeper (yes they still exist, sometimes) assured us it was some kind of debris coming up from the river bed: probably last year’s leaf litter or something.

While negotiating a tight hairpin bend just above Duke’s Lock, Fran remarked that in the copse on the inside of the bend she could see a bloke’s bare bum pumping up and down in some energetic al-fresco bonking: clearly spring has arrived! Too busy trying to get round the bend without hitting the outside bank I missed the rutting, but did wonder if you can get some kind of automatic porn filter for a boat, to avoid any further possible distraction as spring progresses.

Moored at Eynsham LockMoored up at Eynsham Lock

Decent moorings on The Thames aren’t easy to find, so we were pleased when the Eynsham Lock keeper said we could moor just below the lock for the night, with the promise of a pump-out and fresh water the next morning.

At the lock was a blackboard with the message “England does Spring the best” with which it is hard to disagree, and may well have been aimed at the couple downstream, but the impact was somewhat lessened by being next to another blackboard saying “Pump-out Out of Order”.  The latter proved to be to our advantage, as being only partially broken, it needed “testing” the next morning so we had use of the facility for free: what a nice lock keeper!

After seeing to the boat’s needs (it’s always nice seeing the water gauge reading Full and the waste gauge reading Empty), a trip to Eynsham in search of beer, lunch and provisions provided a pleasant interlude before returning downriver to Oxford. The toll bridge only charged 5p for a car and 20p for a double-decker bus: the Severn Crossing take note! The first ducklings of the trip were duly spotted, but there didn’t seem to be any repeat of the other shenanigans even though eyes were kept firmly peeled…

Never as for whom the bell tolls...First ducklings of the seasonCottage in EynshamEynsham Square

Apres La Deluge-Matters Scatalogical

[Those of a delicate disposition look away now].

When you spend a certain amount of time on narrowboats, you soon begin to understand why one of the most common topics of discussion between boaters are the merits or otherwise of the various on-board methods human waste disposal.

As per Toulouse, her sister boat, Song & Dance has two toilets (of different types). The bathroom one is piped to a large holding tank via something politely known as a macerator, which – when working properly – grinds everything exceeding small while pumping it away out of sight,  smell and mind. And when it doesn’t work, anything less liquid than water can cause it to block. Clearly, when fixing the flooding toilet in the bathroom, something had been disturbed, because no sooner had we started using it again in anger, it filled up and didn’t empty.

A “conversation” with an engineer reluctant to hot-foot it all the way from Stoke-on-Trent to Oxford, and our reluctance to don huge rubber gauntlets and strip the system down – we were trying to leave Oxford, not go on a self taught toilet dismantling course – led to a somewhat alarming suggestion that reversing the electricity connections and running the pump would almost certainly resolve the matter. Instant reaction was that we’d promptly turn the bathroom into something resembling the streets of Paris last November, but hey… nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Fortunately, on pulling the toilet away from the wall, it was immediately clear that when previously  replaced after the leak, the large rubber waste pipe had got twisted and crushed, thus preventing it fulfilling its proper role. A swift go at a jubilee clip to twist and realign things, and we were back in business so to speak. Really needs a new waste pipe: let’s hope that the bodge repair lasts long enough.

Meanwhile, the Captain has his own facilities – a litter tray. When we’re moored up he always has access to the Big Wide World and is encouraged to go off into the hedgerows to do his business, while regarding the litter tray as an emergency backup for those moorings where he really isn’t happy to go out for whatever reason. Regrettably, cats also sometimes eat grass to make themselves sick – usually after a major bout of fur cleaning – a rather less predictable exercise.

Fran coaxed Sir out onto the towpath in the evening as the passers-by had largely disappeared, and both came back in a couple of minutes later. “He’s done his business…”, said Fran, “… he’s peed, poohed and puked”, and with that pure alliterative poetry, it was clearly time to leave Oxford. Fast.

Jackstraws Morris at Oxford Folk Festival

The place was awash with morris dancers all weekend (mutter, mutter), so apparently some pictures must be posted. Managed to restrict things just to Jackstraws – many of the other sides seen were – errr – less than inspiring, if more exotically costumed and made-up.

Morris Dancing forbiddenAll up.

Just before dancing, some stray from a Civil War society angrily read a proclamation forbidding morris dancing in Oxford on a Sunday: the impact was lessened by his dentures coming loose in the excitement. Jackstraws were worth watching, as always.

Broad Street, OxfordShepherd's Hey

Shirley and Kris get airborne in Oxford CastleOh No. Not the Upton-on-Severn Stick Dance again...